The Resourceful Gourmet: 5 Cheap, Easy Meals
When it comes to healthy grocery shopping on a budget, we've heard it all. Buy in bulk. Stock up on frozen or canned produce. Eat more beans. Blah blah blah.
As food prices continue to soar—costs rose 2.5 percent in 2012 and are expected to increase by another 4 percent in 2013—it's time for some more creative advice on what to do with all of those eggs and canned tomatoes.
While on a recent supermarket tour in a Brooklyn Super Food Town with chefs and nutritionists who volunteer with Cooking Matters—an initiative from the nonprofit Share Our Strength, which helps people create healthy, affordable meals—we learned a few surprising tricks.
One of the superstar chefs involved in the program is Marc Murphy, a successful NYC restaurateur and judge on the Food Network hit Chopped. Here, he gives you his best advice for shopping and cooking tasty, nutritious, wallet-friendly food.
Take broccoli, for example. We usually toss the stems, but Murphy says you can turn them into a new kind of fettuccine. Using a potato peeler, remove the hard outer layer. Then keep peeling all the way through to create pasta-like strips (length and thickness don't matter).
Next, cook a serving of your favorite pasta, following the instructions on the box. When the pasta is three minutes away from being ready, throw in the broccoli strips and florets. Drain the water and add olive oil with lightly sauteed garlic. Add salt and pepper to taste.
"The stems not only look cool, but taste good and are super nutritious," says Murphy. Other stems worth keeping include parsley. "Tie up parsley stems with butcher twine and throw them in a soup to add lots of flavor," he suggests. "You can also drop the rind of Parmesan in any soup—especially French onion—to punch it up."
You know bananas are the cheapest, all-season fruit, but you're limiting yourself if you think they're only good for snacking or cereal. "A great savory dish is a sweet potato mash, made with bananas and orange juice," Murphy says.
Cover a couple of peeled ripe bananas with orange juice in a pot. Bring to a simmer and reduce the juice. Mix the pot contents in a blender then pour, conservatively, over cooked and mashed sweet potatoes. "Go easy at first, taste it, and add more, plus salt and pepper as you see fit," he says.
Harsh weather conditions and rising fuel prices have made fresh fruits and vegetables more expensive. Canned vegetables are a cheap and versatile alternative.
"Honestly, the best pizza sauce in the world is good canned tomatoes—like fire-roasted, peeled plum tomatoes with basil—buzzed up in a blender, complete with the tomato water," Murphy says. "That's what most Italian restaurants do!"
One of the most inexpensive forms of protein is also the perfect ingredient for reinventing leftovers. "Take just about anything—last night's roasted potatoes or broccoli—and whip them with five eggs or so, sear it in an oven-safe pan, and then bake it at 400 for 10 minutes, or until it's cooked all the way through.
I make this all the time," Murphy says. Eat it alone or stick a slice in a baguette with lettuce and cheese to make a protein-packed sandwich.
"If you're ever confronted with a pork butt (which is really cheap) you can braise it to bring out its amazing flavor," says Chef Marc. "Then you can make pulled-pork sandwiches, quesadillas, or toss it in a pasta or salad."
The simplest way to braise a pork butt is to put it in a roasting pan and add whatever aromatics you want—carrots, onions, garlic, or tomatoes. For a Mexican flavor, go with jalapenos and limes. Pour a few cups of water and cover it with a tight lid so that steam doesn't escape.
Bake at 350 for 3-4 hours depending on the size of the butt (enter "that's what she said" joke here), or until it easily tears with a fork. When it's ready, remove the fatty skin and let it completely cool to room temps.
To serve, shred the pork and mix it with the chopped roasted aromatics and a splash of the leftover juice. It'll keep in the refrigerator for up to five days.
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How do you plan on cooking it? The way this article explains it they are cooking it like a roast, but I actually smoke mine in a smoker. You can also use a crock pot. If you use a smoker you can buy a pre made pork rub from any grocery store and smoke at 225F till the internal temp is about 180F. If you use an oven add onions, garlic, salt and maybe some liquid smoke and cook until your internal temp is 180F. Do the same thing for a crock pot.
I usally spend about $80 on a weeks worth of groceries and that's eating 6x a day. Compared to avg $8 a meal at a fast food joint for only 10 meals. Eating healthy isn't expensive, people just like making excuses.
That's not the cheapest either. My monthly grocery budget is $100-150 depending on what deals or sales there are, and that's 4 meals a day, to a little over $5 a meal. Much more reasonable, and difficult :(
Another tip for those on a budget. When a bunch of bananas are completely ripe (or even a little over ripe) that day the grocery store will discount them even more. Buy those for your smoothie bananas and leave them in the freezer until you're ready to use them!